Must we insist on criticizing questions by new users without even attempting to point them in the right direction where they might find what they need?

I'm speaking primarily of the first comment, which is what led me to write this rant.

As it currently stands, you won't be able to see this question and associated comments unless you have a rep of 20K+ because the OP got frustrated and deleted the whole mess.

Comment #2 was excellent and headed in the right direction. Asking for example images is always good.

But then, after the OP identified the real problem (lighting technique), why couldn't we have pointed the OP in the right direction to find the real answer they needed?

Once the OP mentioned the issues with previous attempts, it would have been easy to provide a link to one of the many product photography questions we have that address those issues. Questions such as Why can't I get a decent white background with product photography? and Why can't I get a pure white background, even using multiple light sources?


Here's a copy/paste version of the question and comments:

What's the best lens for clothes and models?

I have a Nikon D5300, with a kit lens 18-55. I'm using it indoor for taking pictures for clothes (Suits) in my work... I was wondering what could I use to get a better pictures ? A friend of mien recommanded a 17-55 2.8, but I'm not sure about this choice.

Comment 1: Hire a photographer who knows what they are doing. – fkraiem
Comment 2: You have not said what's wrong with your current photos. What is the problem you are trying to find a solution to? – osullic
Comment 3: @fkraiem unfortunately, it's not up to me to do so, I'm not the boss :)
Comment 4: @osullic the photos are dark, and even with the use of softbox, I tried to use withe correction, but I's not enough, the background is gray and the I can't find my way to have a better quality.
Comment 5: Example pictures are worth a thousand words. However, in general, it's usually safe to assume that the tools aren't the problem, it's the proper use of the tools you have that will give you the best results. That is, a new lens is probably not what you should be after. – scottbb
Comment 6: @scottbb you are right, I need to improve my skills while working whit the camera. I love taking pictures, and I enjoy it! specially the night photography, but what's the point of having two similar lens +/- 17-55 and 18-55 with two different apertures ?
Comment 7: I'm sorry, I misread your question based on the title. As written, the title seems to ask for the best lens for fashion/portrait (and I took it to mean, amongst all lenses). However, reading as you intended, "which is the better of these two lenses...", it's a more focused question entirely. – scottbb

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    "Shouldn't we try to point new users in the right direction before mercilessly criticizing their question?" NO. We are not the help desk for the internet. Trying to be that would noise up the site and teach people that you still get some kind of desired result by ignoring the rules here and dumping crap on us. – Olin Lathrop Mar 4 at 14:38
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    So even when we have questions/answers that do address what they are ultimately looking for, we should try to hide that information from them? Okay... – Michael C Mar 4 at 21:38
  • We shouldn't noise up the site to deterimine what they are "ultimately looking for". This isn't a forum or kaffeklatsch. – Olin Lathrop Mar 4 at 21:44
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    @OlinLathrop Please see the RULES regarding answering a question, even if it is a short one, in a comment. Please put your answers in the answers section, even if they're short and Criteria for determining if a post should be a comment or an answer – Michael C Mar 4 at 21:52
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    @OlinLathrop - nobody is suggesting we should attempt to ANSWER them when the question is crap. Michael is asking about if we should be constructive in trying to help them understand what they did wrong so they can fix it rather than insulting. That's a very different thing and the rules are actually pretty clear on it. – AJ Henderson Mar 5 at 6:51
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    @OlinLathrop - Your attitude is the main reason that SE has a reputation for being hostile to new users. No, it's not a forum/kaffeklatsch. However, everyone was a newbie once, even you (January, 2012). If you kill the seed corn, eventually you will have no crop. – JohnP Mar 5 at 15:58
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    @John: Yes, I was new here once. Before I posted anything, I took the time to read the rules, look at a few meta questions, and browse the main site to see what the norms were. I had no problem with getting downvoted or treated badly. Anyone can do the same. The people that come here and blurt out a question before learning the site are not who we want. Those that are too lazy to learn the site or too arrogant to think it applies to them are a net negative. They must not achieve their desired result, else they'll just be back doing more of the same. Quality over quantity! – Olin Lathrop Mar 6 at 13:38
  • @OlinLathrop Ah, I get it. Because they don't conform to your personal standards they aren't worthy of saving. Duly noted, thank you for the edification. – JohnP Mar 6 at 13:40
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    @John: Familiarizing yourself with any new place you join before participating is hardly my "personal standard". That's how it's done properly on the internet, on this site, and in life in general. Don't try to make this personal. That's also not how it's done here. – Olin Lathrop Mar 6 at 13:45
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    I am not. While this is the photo meta, this is more of an SE meta question. I was hoping to gently show you that abusing new users is not the way we should act, and has in fact, given SE in general a reputation. Evidently I have failed. You feel that such people aren't worth your time, so I tip my king. You win. If you have nobody coming to ask questions, even clumsy ones, the only ones left will be the ones that have no questions to ask. Have fun. – JohnP Mar 6 at 13:49
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    @OlinLathrop - nobody is suggesting that they get their desired result for not conforming to the site's standards. We absolutely should not be providing answers to bad questions and encouraging bad behavior, but that isn't at all what this post is talking about. This post is talking about how we handle giving them feedback about what needs to change. Those are two very, VERY different things. The one place it perhaps gets tricky is "close as dupe" since we end up searching for them, but in most cases, providing feed back on how to engage the site correctly doesn't encourage bad behavior. – AJ Henderson Mar 6 at 15:26
  • For the record, I stand with my comment. I find it borderline offensive when someone comes around and asks us, literally, to do their work for them. Because, yes, here the user wanted to take product shots in a business setting. This is the kind of thing professional photographers are for. – fkraiem Mar 8 at 7:18
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    @fkraiem What's wrong with someone trying to learn photography? I think it is possible OP would be better off hiring a professional photographer, but it seems OP isn't aware of that. He/she seems to be at stage one of the stages of competence (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_competence), not fully aware of the extend of what he doesn't know. Surely there are better, nicer ways to explain that to OP? – Belle-Sophie Mar 8 at 9:02
  • @fkraiem - asking HOW to do something is not asking someone to do their work for them. If I ask you how to build a house, that doesn't do the work of building a house. If someone came on and posted an image and asked us to photoshop out some element of it, then I'd agree with you that it is borderline offensive, but there is a HUGE difference between asking how to do something and asking someone to do it. And even if they did, it would still be better to explain to them that we aren't here to do their work for them. – AJ Henderson Mar 9 at 15:58
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    I think the real problem with your comment was the ending "who knows what they are doing." I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt that you simply meant that they should make sure the professional they use has the necessary skills, but since text can be a bit unclear, it comes off implying that the user doesn't know what they are doing and couldn't learn so it isn't worth trying to explain to them. That's the part that makes it rude. It needs further explanation to avoid confusion. – AJ Henderson Mar 9 at 16:02

The first comment is clearly a violation of "Be Nice", which is the most pivotal rule of SE. There isn't any particular responsibility to help people use the site, though it would certainly be advisable if you want the site to grow, however, there absolutely is a requirement to not be unnecessarily mean to a user, no matter how much they may not understand what they are doing.

That first comment makes no attempt to answer the question, is not a good serious answer to the question in this case (and isn't supported enough even if it is). It is condescending and rude. If you don't want to help out a new user that doesn't understand the site, fine, vote to close or flag it for attention if they do something that needs to be cleaned up, but if you are going to post something to them about it, make it helpful, not insulting.

If you want people to use the site right and make it the best site possible, then make an effort to provide them with helpful feedback. There might be a question there that is worth asking and they might become a regular user of the site once they understand how things work. If you don't have the time, fine, but don't be rude.

  • "hire professional" can be part of an answer, but shouldn't be mean – aaaaaa Mar 9 at 15:38
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    @aaaaaa - absolutely. "You really should hire a professional and here are the reasons why..." is the correct answer plenty often, but it should be explained nicely rather than just bluntly stated with no support or reasoning what so ever. I hope that was clear in my answer. – AJ Henderson Mar 9 at 15:56
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    It needed a smiley face. "Hire a Professional :-)" – Valorum Oct 3 at 9:44

Hire a photographer who knows what they are doing.

I see two big problems here:

  1. The comment sounds snide and condescending, whether or not the commenter intended that. Now, I might say something similar myself, perhaps jokingly, or because I'd had a particularly bad day, or out of frustration with one or more people asking for lots of free help. But this is a site that exists largely to offer free help, and people can't tell you're joking when it's just some text on a screen, and if you're in a foul mood then maybe dealing with anonymous people's questions on the Internet isn't the right choice.

  2. Some version of the comment applies to practically every question ever asked on every Stack Exchange site. Q: How do I write a copy constructor? A: Hire a programmer! Q: Do I need to prime before painting? A: Hire a painter! Q: How do I get past the boss on level 17? Hire a gamer! Given that, it's difficult to see how the advice is at all useful. Furthermore, there are times when even "a photographer who knows what they are doing" doesn't know the answer. Do all photographers know how to handle every lighting situation? No. Do we ask people for their credentials before helping them? Of course not.

Shouldn't we try to point new users in the right direction before mercilessly criticizing their question?

Yes, of course we should. That said, as much as we all might try to exhibit maximally helpful behavior, there are going to be times when people leave comments that are less than constructive. I don't think we need to open up a meta discussion when that happens, and characterizing a single problematic comment as merciless criticism seems overblown. Instead, try some of the following:

  • Flag the comment if you think it's inappropriate.
  • Leave your own, friendlier comment so that the OP feels supported.
  • Upvote the question if appropriate.
  • Answer the question if you can.

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